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This editorial originally appeared in The Herald-Dispatch.

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Sports tourism is coming back after taking a hiatus last year, and that’s good news for the Tri-State area and the Kanawha Valley.

Kanawha County officials on Monday announced that the 2022 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships and the Eastern Presidents Cup will return to the Barboursville soccer complex and the Shawnee Sports Complex, in Dunbar. Combined, that’s 12 days of soccer split between the two communities.

Barboursville and Shawnee co-hosted both tournaments in 2019. The two sites also will co-host this year’s Eastern Regional Presidents Cup, June 19-23.

“These tournaments alone will have an estimated economic impact of $28 million,” Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango said. “That is in addition to the $8 million economic impact we are expecting from the 2021 Presidents Cup.”

In 2019, the Eastern Regional Championships brought 225 state champion teams from 13 states to West Virginia to compete for a chance to participate in the national tournament. That influx of people resulted in 41 hotels from Grayson, Kentucky, to Clendenin, West Virginia, being sold out. About 4,500 rooms were booked. According to Google Maps, Grayson and Clendenin are about 101 miles apart, meaning the economic impact was spread over a wide area.

Sports tourism is a special opportunity. Instead of expecting people to come here and partake of unique entertainment options, it brings in families who stay several days to enjoy the companionship of families from other areas who share the same passions.

These two soccer tournaments attract families from Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia. These families get a firsthand look at the Metro Valley of West Virginia and the opportunity to compare life here with the stereotypes they have been taught.

Obviously, people in the Tri-State and the Kanawha Valley are doing something right to keep this tournament here on the far western reach of the Eastern Region, and the entire community benefits.

The success of soccer in the Metro Valley and ATV trails in Southern West Virginia show that tourism is more than festivals, ball games and concerts. It’s a wide-ranging industry whose potential is growing. It’s hard to say how long it will be before the field is saturated when every community tries to duplicate what this area of West Virginia has.

Local officials are wise to be out front in this effort.

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